Ontario truckers not happy with Walmart’s new truck and trailer

by Carolyn Gruske

TORONTO, Ontario—Citing concerns about safety and training, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) announced its objections to a Walmart Canada pilot project that would see longer tractor trailers on the roads.

The trailers, unveiled earlier this week, are 18.4m long (60ft 6in), and are designed to be pulled by a shorter-than-normal cab that eliminates the driver’s sleeping quarters and replaces it with a drome (short for dromedary) cargo box. The pairing of the longer trailer and the shorter cab means the overall length of the units is 23m (75ft), the legally permitted length. Walmart says that between the longer trailer and the drome box, the new design can carry 40 percent more cargo than traditional tractor trailers. Walmart’s pilot program will show the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) if these new trailers are safe and should be permitted on the province’s roads.

According to the OTA, the use of these tractors and supercube trailers presents a number of problems. During its annual general meeting, the OTA’s board of directors unanimously voted on a motion to forward members concerns. While the OTA did support the introduction of long combination vehicles (LCVs) when they were originally introduced, the organization is not an advocate of longer trailers.

The OTA strenuously objects to the fact that the shipper, Walmart, is the entity applying for the permits to put the trucks on the road permanently, and that the retailer has been given the go-ahead by the MTO to run the pilot, even though Walmart won’t be operating the trucks. (Andy Ellis, senior vice-president of supply chain and logistics for Walmart Canada, told MM&D Walmart’s transportation partner Interstate Freight Systems Inc (IFS) will operate the units during the pilot.)

David Bradley, president of the OTA, says, “Our members are very uncomfortable with this proposal as it currently stands. The proposed issuance of special permits to a shipper is a major game-changer for the industry; it completely turns the whole approach to monitoring and managing truck safety on its head. This must be changed.”

He adds, “Right now, the Walmart semi-trailer would appear to mainly have application as a specialized trailer for dedicated runs, but if the floodgates are opened the consequences could be enormous. We need to set some strict criteria and ground rules before heading any further down the road.”

In addition to that general objection, some of the OTA’s specific objections are:

  • “Only carriers with acceptable safety records which are prepared to ensure the safety of their drivers should have access to special permits. As well, shippers need to show responsibility by using only carriers with acceptable safety records and which are prepared to ensure the safety of their drivers and vehicles. The introduction of the proposed extended length semi-trailers in Ontario must satisfy these conditions. In OTA’s opinion the current proposal falls well short.”
  • “The proposed permit conditions are too weak. They should directionally be similar to those established for the Ontario LCV program – ie they should mandate a higher degree of carrier qualification than currently proposed; establish driver qualifications (the current proposal contains no such requirements); and, prescribe specific origins and destinations.”

If the MTO does approve these trucks for use on the roads and begin to issue permits for the units, the OTA hopes the MTO would “adhere to a multi-year gradual phase-in of the number of operators and permits available along the lines of the LCV program.”